Throughout the next few weeks, Chuck Fletcher will comb through the individual Philadelphia Flyers player contracts. Of the five Flyers unrestricted free agents before the 2020-2021 season, three players are on the hot seat in Philadelphia. Four of the five free agents are on a one-year lease with the Flyers organization. In releasing these three players, Philadelphia can immediately free $5.5mil off their books.
He’ll be 36-years-old when the 2020-2021 regular season begins. Time is not his side, and either was speed against the problematic opponents in the Eastern Conference. Against the New York Islanders, Nate Thompson had a plus-minus of -1 and no points. He did excel at the faceoff circle, winning 59.2% of the draws. Letting go of Thompson means $1mil freed off the salary cap.
In his place would be Morgan Frost. I believe Frost should have played in the round-robin at the least. In twenty games, he had a plus-minus of -3, seven points, and won 46.2% of his faceoffs.
Nate Thompson arrived at the 2019-2020 trade deadline for his playoff experience. Theoretically, he was a more sure hand than Morgan Frost. Thompson is superior at securing possession at the faceoff dot, but Frost ultimately scores more efficiently. The Philadelphia Flyers forwards are more efficient when Frost is on the ice. Consistency is crucial for Frost, and the Flyers would save almost $137k if they move on from Thompson.
Derek Grant is not exactly old, but his potential may have peaked at the NHL level. Between two teams, he was on par with his career-best season in ten fewer games. His best season was with the Anaheim Ducks during 2017-2018 when he scored 24 points, achieved a plus-minus rating of 3, and a 53.1% faceoff win percentage in 66 games. In 2019-2020, Grant scored 25 points, a plus-minus rating of 1, and won 51.6% of his faceoffs in 56 games. The abbreviated season robbed the Philadelphia Flyers of knowing if Grant’s success would translate from the Ducks.
Something that piqued my interest in Derek Grant was his ability to help on the penalty kill. In 2019-2020, Grant scored three shorthanded goals. His addition was one made in the absence of Oskar Lindblom from the Philadelphia Flyers penalty kill. At a bargain price of $700k, Grant was a good acquisition by Chuck Fletcher at the trade deadline. He disappeared against top talent in the postseason.
Chuck Fletcher has youth developing with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In 2020-2021, Derek Grant would likely be the more expensive option than Isaac Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe will only cost about $781k, is 21-years-old, and provides an offensive penalty kill presence. Fletcher doesn’t need to pull the trigger on calling up Ratcliffe since Oskar Lindblom is back. This leaves the first of three pending free agents in a similar spot, out in the cold.
Where Derek Grant is the odd man out is in his battle with Tyler Pitlick. Both players offer different skill sets, but Pitlick was able to contribute more in the postseason. He’s also younger than Grant. Throughout the 2019-2020 season, the Philadelphia Flyers thrived when Pitlick was on the ice instead of Grant.
The third defensive pairing was an ongoing experiment throughout the postseason. When traveling down the road to a potential championship, stability is vital. Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere on a rotation did not make anything easier for Justin Braun. However, at the price tag of $3.8mil, Braun’s time has to be up with the Philadelphia Flyers.
More reshuffling of the Philadelphia Flyers defense will be in order. After the postseason, it is not unfair to experiment before the start of the 2020-2021 regular season with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov on the top line. Placing Matt Niskanen and Robert Hagg on the third line is not the worst idea. If we recall, Gostisbehere did not have a bad game during Niskanen’s suspension in the Montreal Canadiens series.
Justin Braun is not built for a Philadelphia Flyers team that needs to make speed a priority. His regular-season numbers were a clear improvement from his final season with the San Jose Sharks, but he was a player lease at best. If Chuck Fletcher needs defensive depth, Mark Friedman showed that he can play at the NHL level at $725k.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre